By Jim Bray
The latest version of Corel's graphics suite is an evolutionary step up from previous versions, offering not only new features and capabilities but a tweaked interface that should make the product easier to use than before.
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CorelDraw may not be the most well-known of illustration and photo manipulation packages, that honour going traditionally to Adobe for its Illustrator/Photoshop apps and its Creative Suite. But the Canadian-based Corel company's offering has sported similar capabilities for many years now and there are a lot of compelling reasons for designers to look at it when they're shopping for a new powerhouse app.
I've been using CorelDraw since version three, which came on about a thousand floppy disks back then, and while I'm merely a hack compared to the really talented people who use the software, it has allowed me to create graphics that would otherwise be far beyond my limited capabilities. How does it compare with Adobe's Creative Suite? Well, I like both of them but I find myself using the Corel versions – Draw, especially – because I find their interfaces easier to fathom.
Of course it doesn't hurt that I've been using the Corel stuff for more than 20 years, whereas I came much later to the Adobe products. One thing I've noticed over the years, however, is that Corel seems to concentrate more on ease of use than Adobe, which makes their products a tad more compelling for near-amateurs like me. Your mileage, of course, may vary.
So it is that with version X7 of the suite, Corel has messed with the interfaces even more – not to the extent that they're reinvented the wheel (and thereby sent their customers back to school to learn it) but that it's even easier to use certain features and accomplish certain tasks, than before. Just what someone like me needs!
Existing users will notice the changes right off the bat, thanks to a newly redesigned Welcome Screen, which is really a jumping off point to access much of the suite's power and capabilities. You can create or reopen a document right from there, as well as change the workspace layout, access the gallery, the online community or the help features – as well as perusing the new features – right from there. It isn't a huge deal, but it's handy.
The "help" section also gives you access to video tutorials and hints as well as acting like a virtual owner's manual.
They've also included some "workflow-specific" workspaces to make your time with Draw easier. A "lite" version is designed for newbies, while "classic" mimics X6's interface and a pair of "advanced" ones are designed to facilitate illustration or page layout (CorelDraw is also a powerful page layout application). There's even one that mimics Illustrator's, for those who may be transitioning to Corel from Adobe.
Changing workspaces can be accomplished merely to returning to the "welcome screen" tab at the top of the workspace.
One thing that's great about this welcome screen is the ability to check out the new features right from there, rather than just poking around under the hood. They're all listed there, along with descriptions of what they do and/or how they've changed from previous versions. And there's a bunch of them, so that makes this "upgrade at a glance" feature really handy.
Version X7 lets you embed fonts when you save CorelDraw documents, so the person to whom you're sending them can get the document exactly as you've designed it. If you've ever tried to open a document only to be told you don't have some of the necessary fonts and your app will use substitutes, you'll probably find this handy.
You can work more quickly now, too, thanks to the new tabbed view that lets you switch back and forth between documents easily. You can also share documents more easily, thanks to the new Content Exchange, which the company says lets you "discover, use, and share fountain fills, vector pattern fills, and bitmap pattern fills. In both CorelDRAW and Corel PHOTO-PAINT, the Content Exchange provides a new Fill picker that makes it easy to vote for and sort your favorite assets."
Corel now offers customers a few different ways to buy the software, including the usual outright purchase option but also via a "premium membership" that gives access to exclusive online content, fonts, new features and services as they come on stream, as well as automatic updates to the next "major" version of the suite for the life of your contract. There's also a 30 day subscription option that basically lets you test drive the suite (with full access) and a 365 day subscription – perhaps aimed at those who need more time to make up their minds about whether or not to purchase the suite.
The suite includes the basic powerhouse applications of CorelDRAW and Photo-Paint, the Illustrator/PhotoShop competitors, and as usual it also includes some smaller but handy apps as well. I'm a particular fan of PowerTrace, which you can use to convert bitmaps to editable vector graphics files. Another bundled application is Capture X7, which you can use to grab images right from your monitor – either via a window, a highlighted area, etc. I use this one quite often, too, and find it very handy. Bitstream Font Navigator helps you find, preview and install fonts, while the Barcode wizard helps you generate your own codes. A duplexing wizard helps you set up your project for two sided printing, while ConceptShare lets you inflict your artwork on others.
A CorelDraw release wouldn't be complete without Corel's usual bunch of content, and version X7 is no different. Corel says you get more than 10,000 clipart images, 2,000 photos, more than 600 templates, 75 interactive text fames and 75 interactive PowerClip frames. You also get 100+ image lists, 400+ artistic media selections, a bunch of photo frames, more than 1,000 fonts and more than 400 pattern fills.
And to help you get up and running, there's more than five hours of training videos, including about an hour and a half of new content. These can be really handy if you're new to the product, or want to learn more about how to exploit it best. The new release also gives you access to "Insights from the Experts," which I found handy as well, since I'm no expert.
Corel says you'll need Windows 7 or newer, in either 32 or 64 bit versions, to handle the software, with at least two gigabytes of RAM and a gig of hard drive space. Minimum monitor resolution is 1280x768 and you'll also need a mouse or graphics tablet. I haven't tried using such a tablet, but imagine it would be a real boon to people who can actually draw. This is why I haven't tried one…
Each new version of the CorelDRAW suite brings new capabilities and enhanced usability and with version X7, the company has released a product that does what it always has – and has done very well – but a little better and a little easier and more flexibly than before. If you're using version X6 or X5, you might not find enough compelling reasons upgrade, but you might find that 30 day "rental" option to be a pretty interesting way to discover the new features and make up your own mind.
I use the suite all the time and like it a lot. Over the years, I've used it to create Christmas greetings, bumper stickers, signs, multi-page documents, logos, and a lot more, including manipulating photographs (I once stuck a grizzly bear into a photograph of my Dad, to freak out some of his friends). It's a powerful suite that offers far more capabilities than I can exploit with my hands full of thumbs, but it's straightforward enough that newbies (and hacks) can get up and running and creating. I imagine power users find it a very compelling product.
If only Corel could include talent in the package they'd really have a tour de force!
Copyright 2015 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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